March 30, 2019 - The California Junior Classical League Convention, Orinda, California

I wrote last year about the third line of Homer’s Odyssey:

πολλῶν δ᾽ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω

He saw the cities and knew the mind of many men

So much intrigue packed into just one line of dactylic hexameter.

I don’t really think of Odysseus’ journeys (as told in Homer's Odyssey) as including lots of cities and the construction of πολλῶν δ᾽ ἀνθρώπων… νόον ἔγνω “he knew the mind (singular) of many men” has always struck me as mysterious and inviting.

And an excellent description of what life as a bard is like: I get to see cities and know minds and these experiences in turn inform my understanding of Odysseus’ journeys and inspire me further in ways both related to the Odyssey and in other facets of my creative life.

My short late-March tour consisted of stops in two cities which I’ve “seen” before: Austin, Texas (which I wrote about here and also about my 2017 performance here), and San Francisco, California.

I wrote about my 2018 San Francisco performances at Berkeley, Humanities West and Menlo School, and in retrospect that trip planted the seeds that became the Iliad adaptation I premiered in Austin during this tour: the gold star father I witnessed at breakfast at Marines Memorial Hotel in the Berkeley blog became one of my first interview subjects and his powerful story very much informs how I am working to represent the Iliad.

My first performance in San Francisco was actually at San Francisco State University on April 18, 2014, a trip memorialized in the song Something to Love from my Record of Life release:

I am in the sky above the Bay flying back to Chicago on Good Friday night
I’m drinking alone and I’m trying to write one more song for this record of my life
I was in California playing music I wrote based on Homer’s Odyssey
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be living something out of a dream

My second visit to the San Francisco area was in 2016 and was part of one of the more memorable tours I’ve had. I flew to Sacramento and performed at UC-Davis on a Wednesday. This was notable because I was suffering from double ear and sinus infections which the flight exacerbated to the point that I could barely hear myself sing.

The next day I performed at Stanford (similarly nearly deaf) and the day after that at UC-Berkeley.

To avoid the ear-popping pressure of another flight I rented a car and spent the weekend driving from San Francisco down the coast on Highway 1, stopping for Saturday night in Monterey and then playing on Monday at UC-Santa Barbara before heading on to the Los Angeles area and reconnecting with old friends for dinner.  

The next day (Tuesday) I had off and wandered around Laguna Beach, drinking a beer in the glorious afternoon sun at a cafe while I finished writing the first draft of what would become my Eidolon article On Being a Modern Bard.

Trip ended with Wednesday performances at University High School in Irvine and Mirman School in the hills of Los Angeles, and then a madcap ride to the airport for a late flight back to Chicago.

So the cities I’ve seen and mind(s) I’ve known in California have been very, very good to me: they've informed and impacted my Odyssey world, my Iliad project, and my Record of Life release.  

On this trip, I flew from Austin to San Francisco and had dinner with a college friend on Friday night. After a run along the East Bay in the beautiful Saturday morning air, I made my way to Miramonte High School in Orinda to do two performances for the California Junior Classical League Convention.  

I set up in the auditorium and several hundred JCL-ers filed in and (as JCL students are) were a wonderful audience full of respectful listeners and great questions. A second performance followed and I could hear the nuance and tone in my voice were reflecting the months of work I’d put in rehearsing the Bob Dylan songs and Iliad material for the Austin portion of my trip.

In fact, one of the questions after the first show was about how much I practice the Odyssey and I was able to (truthfully) say “never, anymore,” but then clarify that I do practice all sorts of other things to make sure I’m in good voice and my fundamentals are strong.

And I really felt those strong fundamentals as I came down the home stretch of my second performance and the audience rewarded me with applause and another great discussion.

Then I found myself headed back to my hotel and the next day was an odyssey of trains, planes, and automobiles, before I was finally home in Chicago.

As with all my travels, I returned a slightly changed person, a more worldly person, and as someone who had seen a few more cities and known a few more minds.

And better for all of it.

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